Writing for Young People at The Story House

beautiful writingAre you writing for young people? Would you like a residential week at Lisnavagh House, Co. Carlow, to focus on your work?

I’m delighted to announce that I’ll be joining the wonderful Sheena Wilkinson and Patricia Ford at The Story House from Monday 20th – Saturday 25th February 2017, to bring you a week dedicated to writing for young people. Through relevant writing exercises, group discussion and one-to-one sessions, you will gain practical knowledge that you can apply to your own work in progress.

This course is aimed at anyone interested in writing fiction for young people and is limited to 12 participants (– I have it on good authority that there are at least three bookings already!). From the art of re-drafting to navigating the contemporary publishing world, we will help you to develop as a writer for this exciting age group.

You can read more about the week hereHope to see you there! 

7 great books about writing

If you’re a writer, you’re also a reader. And as you read you become increasingly aware of how many possibilities there are as a writer. Reading makes you want to explore new styles, try new things, and write something as great as (no, even better than!) that last incredible book you devoured in one sitting. The one that made you burn the toast/turn up late to pick up the kids/cancel that dinner with friends you’d been looking forward to for months.

To improve your writing, reading is essential. But so is practice. You have to write as often as possible to progress. That’s a fact. And although there are no specific ‘rights and wrongs’ when it comes to plot/style/character etc, you do have to make sure that your writing does was it’s meant to: it has to convince and entertain. In short, your writing needs to transport your reader to another world that is wholly believable, one where they want to stay long enough to finish the whole book/story/poem.

Writing classes and workshops are a huge help; to get the most out of the experience, make sure you respect the writer that is taking the course and that it is pitched at a level that suits where you are in your writing career. But sometimes, geographical, financial or other constraints can make it difficult to commit to a workshop. Thankfully, there are some excellent books available that will help you improve in all areas of your writing – from grammar and punctuation, to holding narrative tension and creating compelling characters, to coping with rejection and solitude (and the best thing is, it’s combining two of your favourite things!).

Here are seven of my top choices…

on writing stephen kingOn Writing by Stephen King – part biography, part toolbox, this is one of the most readable, straight-talking and honest books on writing that you’ll ever read. The overall message is that practice, improving your skills, finding your own style and perseverance are the key to writing success. This may not seem like a revelation, but King’s wit, advice and fluid style really helps convey important messages without being overly didactic or patronising.

Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert McKee – although this book focuses on, the principles can be applied to any form of creative writing. Informative, insightful and downright impressive in its scope, McKee’s book is essential reading for anyone who wants to add magic to his or her writing. In case you need a bit more convincing, McKee’s former students include over 60 Academy Award Winners, 250 Academy Award Nominees, 170 Emmy Award Winners, 500+ Emmy Award Nominees (and the list goes on…)!

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss – although punctuation is a dreaded topic for many, there’s no escaping it. Yes, copy-editors can help you in this area but as the world of publishing grows increasingly competitive, it’s more important than ever that your manuscript is as polished as possible when you submit it to agents and publishers. Thankfully, Truss debunks the subject while making it accessible and fun (yes really!).

How to write Picture Books by Ann Whitford PaulWriting Picture Books by Ann Whitford Paul – beautifully produced, this book offers all you need to see a picture book through from concept to completion. Through detailed examples of great children’s literature and step-by-step exercises designed to help you to improve your own writing, it is an invaluable addition to the bookshelf of any writer trying to break into the world of children’s picture books.

The Elements of Style
 by Strunk & White – Just like punctuation, grammar is an essential part of a writer’s toolbox and this book remains the best and the most concise. It covers everything you need to know in a slim, portable volume. Presenting the facts clearly and sensibly, this book considers elements of usage, composition and style – it’s a reliable all-rounder, so you won’t need another.

Creative Writing, A Practical Guide (3rdedition) by Julia Casterton – the reason I like this book is that it covers a wide range of topics across poetry and fiction, including narrative tension, developing characters, research techniques, performance and effective dialogue. The book also looks at a writer’s life; why people write, how they structure their day and cope with various aspects of being a writer. The structure is clear and the advice is sound; a great choice for those in the early stages of their writing journey.

mortificationMortification: Writers’ Tales of Their Public Shame by Robin Robertson – although it’s not about writing per se, this book plays an important role in helping writers cope with an inevitable part of their writing life: failure/rejection. Read about some of the nightmare book tours that famous writers have had to endure and enjoy the sense of camaraderie as you chuckle along with their blush-inducing tales.

If you know of any other noteworthy books on writing that may help other writers improve their craft, please let us know in the comments – we’d all really appreciate it! 

(Note, this article was originally written for writing.ie)

Innovation & Quality: Writing for Children with WritersWebTV

online writing workshops

The brains behind the operation…

I recently watched the inaugural live online writing workshop ‘Finding the magic: Writing for Children’ – an innovative world first from WritersWebTV, presented by Vanessa O’Loughlin of writing.ie.

Although I wasn’t sure what to expect, I’ve had lots of wonderful experiences linked to Vanessaincluding finding my agent (Sallyanne Sweeney), the place I now call home and as a result, my husband! – so I was pretty certain that it would be a quality affair.

Although it’s not usually easy, I was willing to write off a day of writing to immerse myself in advice from talented authors and industry professionals. The list was impressive, with the likes of Michael Emberley, Marie Louise Fitzpatrick, Norton Vergien, Oisin McGann and Meg Rosoff on hand to share their knowledge of the industry and writing tips, answer questions and set short writing tasks.

online writing workshops

Attend the workshop from anywhere in the world? A great idea!

Even though some parts of the workshop weren’t relevant to me – I already have an agent, for instance – I dipped in and out, garnering bits of knowledge that made me stop, think and at times, rethink my own approach. I also found myself enjoying snippets of advice that I could relate to, stuff that left me nodding and smile knowingly.

The set up was impressive and multi-faceted, featuring the host Vanessa, an in-house audience and an interactive online global audience with a two-way communication stream via twitter, facebook and email. Despite the fact that the workshop was online, it maintained an inclusive and personal feel and I feel the positive feedback they’re receiving is well deserved.

Covering everything from animation to publishing, illustration to collaboration, finding an agent to finding your voice, this was something I had never experienced before and didn’t really believe could actually be done – at least, not to this standard.

I don’t want to spoil it for you – those of you who missed it and are serious about your writing career can buy it online & watch it for yourself – but here are a few of my favourite bits I’d like to share, to give you a taster…

  • The sign of good writing is to take a feeling and put it down on paper convincingly – being able to create suspense is important and make sure it’s not boring for the child.” Michael Emberley
  • Write, rework, return to your work – time lapse enables mistakes to jump out at you. It took me 14 years to write one of my books and get it right – it was turned down by same publisher 3 times, and taken on the fourth occasion. Not rushing is vitally important.” Marie Louise Fitzpatrick
  • A good agent will understand the market, will know gaps in a publisher’s list and have good contacts within the publishing industry. They’ll also help you work on your book, matching your script to the right editor. If you’re lucky enough to get an agent, it’s important you feel the agent understands your book – they have your vision.” Polly Nolan
  • You don’t need a lot of description but you do need the right words – but trust in your reader and leave some things to their imagination. What you leave out as important as what you leave in.” Meg Rosoff
using social media for writing

Social Media: providing a two-way stream during the workshop

This is just a taste of what was on offer, but if you can imagine an entire day – from 10am till 4pm – of such gems, with the chance to interact via twitter, facebook and email and have your questions answered by industry professionals, then you’ll understand why I’m highly recommending the next few workshops.

  • Getting to the Heart of it: Writing Women’s Fiction Tuesday, October 15th
  • Crime Pays: Writing Crime Fiction Wednesday, October 30th
  • Getting Published Saturday, November 9th

I’d love to know who else tuned in to the first workshop and what you thought of it. And who’s tuning in next time? Even if you don’t write in those genres, you may pick up something useful as the information is always transferable and as writers, we can always improve.

Make the most of your writing time

funny sleepy puppy

Franklyn has mastered the art of maximising his time

I was going to call this post ‘make your writing time last longer’ but I reconsidered, deciding that it was probably an outlandish claim seeing as most people juggle jobs, families, and generally hectic lives, as well as their writing.

Not everyone can stretch their time to incorporate more focused writing, but we can all make the most of the time we have available to generate ideas, edit current work and generally further our projects. (This applies to non writers too – as you read on, replace the writing references with whatever hobby/work tasks are relevant to you.)

Here are a few tactics that I rely on to get the most out of my day and maximise its potential.

Exercise first thing. I find this stimulates the body and mind and unclutters your brain. How long does it honestly take you to get going in a morning? Why not use that time to get the oxygen flowing round your body and benefit from the feel-good factor of having a great start to the day?

Many people choose to exercise with a friend because they find it motivating, but I recommend going alone if you can. You’l find your mind fresh and alert, rather than bogged down with gossip/problems – and it’s much easier to get started right away on your projects when you’re done exercising.

Choose wisely. Some writers leave their work with a sentence unfinished, so they’re itching to get started the next day. Personally, I like tasks to be ‘completed’ (read – finished to the best of my ability in that session) before stopping. If you know you only have fifteen minutes to write, and that that’s how long it takes you to get into your character’s mind to work on your current chapter, for instance, don’t set yourself up for failure. You’ll only feel irritated and short-changed when you have to stop. Choose something else that will move you forward.

For instance, is there a character’s name that doesn’t sit right? Research alternatives and mindmap ideas. Is your title not quite working? Play with that. How about redrafting a paragraph of a short story that’s been niggling at you? Maybe there’s a themed submission you’ve got your eye on but haven’t come up with anything yet? It’s time to play with ideas! As writers, the task we choose is vital to our sense of achievement.

sleep kittens cuddling up

As you can see, my cats also follow my advice.

Switch tasks. If you swap between tasks, you can honestly write for longer. It’s a great way of maximising your time. I find that by the time I’ve edited two chapters, my mind is straying from the task in hand and any subsequent chapter editing isn’t as focused. In other words, I need to walk away until the next day. However, I don’t need to walk away fro writing completely.

If I switch to a short story, or a piece of flash fiction, or even my next blog post, I work completely refreshed. I find, however, that trying to plan too rigidly can get stressful because you feel like you can never do enough. Write a list of the writing goals you want to achieve that week, with your main WIP prioritised. Once you’ve achieved your main goal, work through the secondary list one by one. You’ll be amazed how much you can accomplish.

Notebooks & other devices. All writers talk about the ingenious notebook – that magical place where we can jot down overheard snippets of conversation, plot ideas, observations and interesting facts that may be useful later. But they’re not that ingenious if they’re sat on the desk at home, unopened. Get used to carrying your notebooks around – make it a habit, like picking up your keys or driving glasses.

If you prefer technology, or a multi-sensory approach, use an app on your phone like Evernote to record ideas and inspiration. I love Evernote because you can take snaps, record your thoughts via audio and make notes – all in the same spot. And if you sync them online, you can access them at any time from any computer. Genius, hey? There are various diary and note taking apps available – try some free downloads until you find one that you enjoy using. Then you have yet another handy tool for collecting ideas.

Create time. Ask anyone about their day, and they’re busy. Almost too busy to tell you about their day. You don’t get many people saying – well, I read a paper, walked the dog, then sat staring out of the window, enjoying the view for a few hours. We’re all busy all of the time, but look at how you’re spending your day and ask yourself – am I spending my time wisely?

People with incredible lives make them incredible. They make choices that give themselves more time to do the things they want to do. Are there things you could do smarter? For instance, could you combine tasks, such as walking the dog to buy your groceries? Do you really need to sit chatting during your lunch break, or could you fit in an extra half hour of writing? Even twice a week? Is it really necessary to spend that much time on Twitter? Which leads us perfectly to…

Internet off. Not forever, but while you’re writing. When you’re writing, that should be your sole focus. Otherwise, you’re in your world, not your character’s – and how is that going to be believable to your reader?

Then there’s the distraction of checking emails, chatting about your writing on twitter (otherwise known as procrastinating), sticking up some inspirational pictures on Pinterest – ooh, and then I wonder how THAT writer’s getting on over on Facebook. We’ve all done it. But there’s nothing that can’t wait until you’ve achieved that day’s goals. So while we’re at it…

franklyn puppy with toy collection

Internet, phones, TV off. No distraction here! I’m 100% focused.

Phones off. Voicemail is the answer. We’re used to being completely contactable 100% of the time, but is it necessary? When police are patrolling the streets, they can’t use their mobiles – and their nearest and dearest wouldn’t even consider trying to call them while on duty. Likewise for librarians, schoolteachers, shop assistants and anyone else when they’re working. And so be it for writers. Only you have to make it clear – and stick by it.

No TV. I know this isn’t ideal for everyone but if you don’t switch the TV on, you’re not distracted. If you don’t have a TV, there’s no ‘switching it on for background noise’ then ‘accidentally watching’. When people go on holiday, they’re amazed at how much they fit in. Often, it’s because they’re not sat watching TV for a section of their day.

That’s not to say TV is a bad thing, but if you want to maximise your time it’s a no go area – at least while you’re writing. A less drastic alternative (and a nicer compromise) is to set a writing task that you have to finish before you switch the TV on. There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Wait. This is the one that many find hardest of all – especially in the early stages of a writing career – but waiting is actually beneficial. Letting your writing sit for a while before redrafting works wonders. Flaws are easier to spot, tongue-tied sentences stick out and if the idea hadn’t quite blossomed enough, the gaps are easier to identify. In short, the quality of work you produce is often much higher than if you tried to redraft it day after day for a week. If you don’t already wait, try it and see.

Now I don’t claim to be an expert on these matters, but these things work for me and I hope they work for you too. If you have any other tips on making writing time more effective, please let me know! I’m always looking for ways to keep the day productive, stress-free and enjoyable – while making the most of my writing time – so all suggestions are welcome!

How will you make the most of your writing time today?